Totem Pole Maintenance

August 18, 2010
Conservators Ellen Carrlee and Ron Sheetz at the Governor’s Totem Pole, Juneau, Alaska in May 2010

Southeast Alaska is the land of totem poles.  These iconic outdoor sculptures are powerful, valuable, and remarkably vulnerable.  The Tongass National Forest, covering 80% of Southeast Alaska, is a temperate (cool) rainforest, with precipitation between 80 and 100 inches per year in most places where totem poles are made and displayed.  (In comparison, Seattle’s annual precipitation is usually under 40”.)  Imagine placing a wooden pole in the ground and exposing it to the weather for decades.  Utility poles, which are heavily impregnated with preservative chemicals, typically last 25-50 years in much less aggressive conditions.  Most totem poles are not treated with preservatives when they are erected.          

Ron Sheetz applies water repellent


I’ve been involved in the maintenance of several totem poles, and in May 2010 had the great pleasure of working with Ron Sheetz, retired National Parks Service conservator who specializes in furniture and wooden objects.  Ron has treated well over 50 totem poles in the past 20+ years, and is a wealth of useful information and experience.  We agreed it might be useful to have basic totem pole maintenance instructions on the internet.  Ron also wrote a Conserve-O-Gram for the National Parks Service a few years back called “Protecting Wood with Preservative and Water Repellents” available at           

SUMMARY:  If you are responsible for the care of a totem pole in an outdoor environment, a maintenance/inspection schedule should be developed and carried out.  Inspections should check for loose parts, damage, and signs of decay or insect infestation.  Borates and water repellent should be periodically applied.  Borates help protect against rot and insects, but are water soluble.  Water repellent protects the pole and prevents the borates from washing out with the rain.  The application of borates and water repellent should occur every 3 – 5 years, depending on when the water repellents have worn off (water no longer beads up on the surface of the wood.)  If the totem will be moved it is recommended to contact the Native community to allow them the opportunity to comment and to be involved with the preservation process.  Moisture management is key to preservation.  Proper drainage around the base of the pole and lead or copper caps at the top help preserve the wood.  Typically, if you set aside a week to do the work, that’s plenty of time and allows for vagrancies of weather.      

INSPECTION:  Every time a pole is taken down, there is a risk of damage.  Better to leave it vertical if possible.  This is fine for inspection and cleaning, but perhaps not convenient for the detail work painting and re-carving may require.           

Scaffolding used for maintenance of the Auke Pole at Centennial Hall, 81.01.033 in the Juneau Douglas City Museum collection


Sometimes scaffolding is used.  Rental of an electric or diesel boom lift is very helpful for maintenance purposes.  A lift can usually hold two people if the total is under 500lbs.          

Diesel boom lift for treatment of Governor's Totem


 Note the importance of wearing a safety harness while on lift.  In addition to the obvious safety issue, nothing brings out the local newspaper photographer like work on a totem pole, and a front page photo of you on a lift with no harness is an easy way to get a fine from OSHA.  A few hours may be spent photographing, taking condition notes, measuring cracks, and probing the wood with an ice pick.  When wood is damp, the hole from the ice pick swells back shut right away, leaving no mark.  Plants near the base should be removed to promote air circulation and drying at the base of the pole.          

Base kept clear of foliage to allow air circulation


I prefer to document a totem pole from the top down, referring to the highest figure as “Figure One” and describing each figure separately.  The figure’s own right side is called “Proper Right” or PR and likewise the left is “Proper Left” or PL.  I refrain from identifying the figures as specific animals unless a record has been left by the carver.  It can be difficult to know, for example, if a bird-like creature was meant to be an eagle, hawk, mosquito, thunderbird, kadjuk or some other real or mythological creature.  Best to keep the description simple, just enough to make clear which figure you are talking about.  From the ground, I note the following:          

Detached head with broken mortise and tenon join. Four Story Totem Pole, Juneau Douglas City Museum collection 84.19.001


Missing, loose, or detached elements.  Inspect any lead or copper caps as well to see if they are loose or have missing or rusting nails.          

Paint loss on top figure of Governor's Totem


Degree of paint loss, usually as an estimated percentage (ie “20% of the paint is lost from the 3rd figure”)          

Moderate green biological growth on figure four of Governor's Totem


Color and degree of soiling and biological growth (ie “localized green patches of biological growth” or “overall black biological growth” or “moss and lichens forming on the upper surfaces of the arms”)  Look, too, for evidence of insect infestation.           

Carpenter ant infestation in a rotting totem pole


 Some insects, like carpenter ants, will make their home in rotted wood.          

Ron Sheetz measures a large crack near top of Governor's Totem


Large Cracks.  Totem poles always have cracks.  I just keep an eye on the largest ones, and perhaps take a measurement or two of crack width.  Photographs are a better way to keep track of overall cracks than written notes.          

Sound wood will not allow deep penetration of an icepick


Rotten areas.  Using an icepick or a sharp steel awl, push the point into the wood and see how deep it goes.  It is best to do this when the wood is damp anyway, as the hole will swell shut quickly.  Sound wood will not easily allow penetration of the awl, while rotting wood will allow the tip to go in without much resistance.  If the pole is directly in the ground or in concrete, the base may have rot.  Sometimes the base is solid on the outer layer, but underneath there can be soft areas and loss.  It is not uncommon for there to be rot beginning at ground level and extending down down 18-20” until the wood is more sound again, deep underground.  Upper areas of the pole often have more rot than lower figures, and there is usually one side of the pole that suffers more intense weathering.   If available, a Resist-o-graph is very helpful, especially around the base of a totem pole.  The tool is a drill that measures resistance of the wood, indicating location and depth of decay.  The drawback is the cost of the equipment, perhaps around $12,000.  However, sometimes one can be found or contracted though specialist companies or govenrment agencies.  I have heard of this tool being used on various Alaska projects by the National Parks Service and by the private company Extreme Access, an Oregon-based inspection and testing company.        

PR wing has more cracking


PL wing has more biological growth













Palmyra gong brushes with nice long handles


Ivory soap and warm water can be mixed in a bucket to make a cleaning solution.  Use just enough soap to bring up bubbles when you swirl your hand in the water.  Vegetable fiber or nylon scrubbing brushes work well, and a long handle is your friend.  Smaller dish-washing sized nylon brushes are very helpful as well, to clean more detailed areas of carving, under noses and the like.  Start from the top and work your way down, rinsing with a garden hose as you go.  If biological growth is especially thick, you may find popsicle sticks and bamboo skewers useful to help scrape it off the surface.  Remember not to use tools that are harder than wood or you may damage the pole.  Occasionally, totem poles may have grass or small trees growing from them.  In those situations, it is probably  better to cut off the growth flush with the wood, since pulling out big roots can cause more damage and create empty spaces for water to pool.        


RESTORATION:  It is best to leave your cracks open (NO WOOD SPLINES), as this allows the water to flow out without getting trapped inside, and allows air circulation for the wood to dry out when it is not raining.  Putting a sliver of wood into a crack usually creates a problem of holding moisture in the totem pole.  Any attempt to fill the void eventually leads to a situation that encourages moisture retention in the joint between the wood and the fill as the two separate over time.  This moisture retention will promote further decay.  Cracks that develop in the pole surface due to the drying/shrinking of the pole over time should also be left open and not filled.  Poles carved in the round usually have more cracking naturally than poles that have been hollowed out a bit in back.  Epoxy:  Sometimes small pieces of wood are in danger of falling off and need to be adhered in place, as well as larger segments such as wings and beaks wth loose mortise and tenon joints.  Epoxy is typically used in this instance, but epoxy repairs are considered a specialist treatment.  Judgment and experience are needed to determine when an epoxy repair is need and will contribute to the ongoing stability of a pole, since poorly executed repairs can cause more problems and be aesthetically disfiguring.  Epoxy repairs are difficult to reverse without harming the wood, and skill and experience are required to select and apply epoxies, bulking agents, and tinting products.  Most of epoxy work is generally done when a pole is taken down for extensive treatment.  You can still do normal cleaning, biocide, and water repellent application for maintenance if you are not prepared to do more advanced restoration work like epoxy repairs, re-carving, and re-painting.  Painting and Carving:  If repainting or re-carving is to be done, the current preservation ethics require the work to be done by the appropriate Native carvers.  Factors to be considered are if the original carver is alive, if living members of his family are carvers or perhaps other people he has trained, if a new carver is artistically mature and can match the quality of the pole, and issues of clan and moiety.  Local museums, tribal organizations, or historical societies may have useful information.  Newspaper articles about the original installation of the pole usually list the name of the carver, too.  Traditionally, the oldest poles had little or no painted surfaces.  20th century carving styles and maintenance theories have seen periods where entire poles were painted.  In general, paint has a tendency to trap moisture underneath and hasten the degradation of the wood, so less paint is better from a preservation standpoint.  Less paint on a pole also means better penetration of the borates and water repellent, thus easier maintenance.  However, occasionally re-painting is desired.  In that case, borates should be applied FIRST and allowed to soak in and dry, followed by painting and then a final coat of water repellent.  (The paint will not adhere well to the water repellent.)    


Borate application goes much better with two people


Biocide: Bora-Care is a brand name of a water-soluble solution of sodium borates in polyethylene glycol.  It will not penetrate well where there is paint, and penetrates best at endgrain areas.           

Borates will soak in readily in endgrain areas like tops of these arms. Apply until it no longer soaks in.


In larger amounts it can kill surrounding plantings and grass, which should be tarped when it is used.           

Cover surrounding foliage for application of both borates and water repellent.


It provides residual protection against biological growth, but must be used in conjunction with a water repellent, or it will be leached out prematurely by the rain.  As a borate salt, it is hygroscopic and will travel within the pole, continually attracted to water (ie areas of prospective rot) and provide ongoing protection.  The product works against insects by interrupting the digestion of nutrients, starving them to death.  Bora-care mixes one-to-one with water for application, and the mixing goes much better with warm water.  1 ½ gallons of Bora Care (mixed with equal amount warm water) is enough for a typical 30-foot pole.            

Ron told me he learned the strainer trick the hard way once...


Use a 6” metal strainer over the opening of the garden sprayer when pouring the mixed borates as a precaution against the sprayer getting clogged.  A 2-gallon hand-pump garden sprayer helps greatly in application: you avoid the mess of a sloppy bucket, can spray deep into cracks and endgrain, can reach around the back of the pole more easily, and access hard-to-reach areas like wings.  Working with two people is much easier than working alone, as one person can spray and the other can back-brush for improved penetration.  Bora-Care can be applied while totem pole is still wet from washing to aid in the penetration of the borates.  Wearing gloves helps keep your hands clean, as the Bora Care is rather sticky.  Borates are also available in a solid stick as “Impel Rods.”  These are useful for placing inside big voids or cracks, or under caps and in loose mortise and tenon joints before re-adhering.  They are a little larger in size than a stick of chalk, and can last around 10 years.  You would not want to drill any new holes for putting in the rods, as this is counter to conservation ethics of preserving the original material of the totem pole.  An exception may be at the base or below ground of buried totems.  Washing and applying borates is usually a good day’s worth of work.          

Juneau Douglas City Museum Curator of Collections Addison Field applying BoraCare to the Four Story Totem pole 84.19.001


Water repellent:  A quality water repellent should be applied after the wood dries from the application of the Bora-Care.  It is best to have a drying day in between if possible.  Paraffin-oil based products are desirable, and your water repellent should be breathable and non-film forming.  UV inhibitors and fungicides are also good ingredients.  The totem poles in Southeast Alaska are most frequently protected with X-100 Natural Seal Wood Preservative.  This product is also used by the National Parks Service and Parks Canada.           

Back-brushing aids in penetration and catches drips, too


Water repellent is oily and greasy, you’ll want to wear old clothes, gloves etc and protect surrounding foliage.  Put plastic carefully around the bottom to collect drips, you may even be able to re-use what pools on the plastic when you get to the bottom of the pole (sop it up off the tarp with a brush and apply to the bottom areas of the pole.)         

Plastic tarping to protect foliage and catch drips


 Apply repellent slowly with the sprayer, starting at the top and working your way down, back brushing and preventing excess dripping and mess as much as possible.  The need for the 2-gallon garden sprayer and the use of two people is the same as for the borate application.  Approximately two gallons of X-100 water repellent is adequate for a typical 30-foot pole.          

Caps:  Custom-fabricated metal caps are used to prevent penetration of water into the end grain of the wood, particularly on the top of the pole and upper surfaces of beaks and arms on the higher figures of a totem pole.  Done well, these are almost invisible from the ground.         

Lead cap on top figure of Governor's Totem


Capping used to be controversial, because some people were concerned that water would get trapped underneath and cause accelerated rot.  But Ron Sheetz removed some old CCC-era lead caps from poles in Sitka Historical Park and found that they were in much better condition than the poles that were not capped.  For one in particular, the Twin Village Watchman (it was too tall for a lift so he had to go up in a crane with a cage!) the cap had blown halfway off and you could compare the two halves.  The half that was still capped was much better, looking almost like new wood.  The uncovered side was black and cracked and starting to rot.  If the cap covers the end grain fully and allows for runoff, you won’t trap moisture underneath.          

Lead caps protect exposed endgrain.


Sheet lead works the best, since it can be cut and conformed to the surface easily with pressure from the hands and the careful use of a hammer or rubber mallet to gently trace over the three-dimensional carved shapes.  Copper sheeting can also be used, but must be cut and lapped, so it is not as easy to form to the complex shapes of the carved surface.  Thinner lead is better.  Ron Sheetz has been using 1/16” lead or less…the thinner the better.  1/32 would be ideal, but it can be hard to find thin lead.  Ideally, you would roll it down in a roller (such as at a machine shop,) but you can’t always find one in the community where you’re working.  The lead turns a nice gray within a couple of days and really blends well with the weathered color of the pole.  It becomes nearly invisible.         

Copper cap on top of Auk Pole, Juneau-Douglas City Museum collection 81.01.033


Copper eventually darkens to an unobstrusive color, too, but it takes much longer, and there is always the concern of greenish or grayish copper stain streaks.           

Ron Sheetz replacing loose nails that were too short with longer ones.


Stainless steel, copper, or galvanized nails should be used to attach the caps.  Length of nail depends on the quality of the wood.  Need to go deep enough to bite into solid wood and not work loose.  If nails work loose, don’t just tap them back in.  There’s a reason they have pulled out, perhaps were not long enough.  Select longer nails, perhaps with rough edges like textured stainless steel nails, and they will have a better bite.           


Totem poles directly in the ground can suffer from rot and insect infestation


Poles mounted directly in the ground or in concrete inevitably develop rot at the base in the wet climate of Southeast Alaska.  Putting a pole directly in the ground was the traditional way to display a pole, but when those poles deteriorated, the tradition was to have them re-carved or replaced.  There is often a desire today to preserve poles in the outdoor environment as outdoor sculptures by known artists, objects in museum collections, or significant municipal investments in public art.  Many of these poles today are mounted on a metal support attached to a concrete base.         

Mount for Hasrnessing the Atom pole, Juneau Douglas City Museum collection 84.18.001


The metal support is engineered to extend up approximately 1/3 of the total pole height.  This distance could be greater if good solid wood is not available within that length of the pole.  Holes are drilled through the front of the pole, bolts extend into the metal support and the bolt holes are recessed and plugged.         

Shelf below elevates pole above soil and helps support its weight


 The weight of the pole should also be supported at the base by a small shelf of metal attached to the strong back.  Bolts go up into the bottom of the pole through that shelf.  This prevents the bolts in back from holding the entire weight of the pole.  Elevating the pole’s base several inches above ground level will keep the pole out of the soil and prevent water seeping up into the base.  The metal support mechanism up the back of the pole must have strong underground footings and is usually itself mounted in concrete underground.  Examples of poles mounted with metal support poles are at the governor’s mansion in Juneau, Totem Bight in Ketchikan, inside Juneau-Douglas High School, and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.          

  • The pole will look a little darker and the colors more saturated for a few weeks following application of borates and water repellent.  The grain pattern will also be more visible for a while.  This is particularly true while the oil-based water repellent is drying.  In a few weeks, these temporary changes will fade and the pole will be back to its natural look.  
  • Inspect annually for damage, double check condition against your notes and photos  
  • When water no longer beads up, re-apply Bora-Care (will need about a gallon and a half) and the water repellent (1-2 gallons)  
  • If you need more advanced treatments (re-carving or painting, epoxy work, new mounting etc) start thinking about fundraising and identifying companies or volunteers to donate time and services.  
  • Performing preservation treatment will definitely help prolong the life of a totem, but to really preserve a totem, it will have to be placed indoors.



Some totem pole maintenance supplies on hand at the Alaska State Museum


Lift Electric is nice because noise is tedious      

Safety Harness  If not for preserving your life than for avoiding a personal fine      

Ice pick or awl for probing wood to find areas of rot and estimate degree of deterioration      

Ivory Soap   or other mild soap without dyes or fragrances    

Warm water for mixing and cleaning up Bora-Care      

Hose for washing (hose bib to open valve)     

 Long-handled brushes  Palmyra gong plant fiber bristles are nice     

 Short-handled nylon bristle brushes (dish and toothbrush sized)     

 2-gallon garden sprayer hand pump sprayer (to apply Bora-care and X-100)     

 Plastic putty knives to scrape off thick biological growth       

Popsicle sticks  to scrape off thick biological growth      

Bamboo skewers  to scrape off thick biological growth      

6” wire Strainer  to pour mixed Bora-Care into the sprayer and avoid clogs     

 Buckets  two clean 5 gallon buckets for mixing, wash water etc     

 1 gallon buckets.  The kind with measurements on the side are nice.     

 Tarps to protect surrounding foliage and ground      

Gloves latex or nitrile, keep hands clean, rubber gloves can be nice, but less dexterity     

 Paper towels Wipe up overspill of borates and water repellent     

 Bora-Care Biocide containing disodium octaborate tetrahydrate and ethylene glycol, made by Nisus corporation.  Approximately $100 per gallon now, available from Wood Care Systems.     

 Impel Rods, box of 12 (1” x ½” for laying in open cavities to release borates slowly as needed)      

 X-100 Natural Seal Wood Preservative.  Paraffin oil-based water repellent.


Chemical Inventory

August 10, 2010


Note: this is an internal document I produced to help properly organize the chemicals in my conservation lab for safety and inventory purposes.  In some cases I’ve made extra notes for myself about what the chemical may be used for.  For a few of them, I’m not sure.  Many of these pre-date my time here, as there has been a conservation lab at the Alaska State Museum since 1976.  I am in the process of determining how many of these chemicals to keep, as good lab hygiene suggests not keeping more than is needed.  However, some of these chemicals have been used on collections, and keeping them may help inform future conservation treatments.  There are also many things on this list that I will likely never have again if I get rid of them now.  I’m posting the list for you here to show what kinds of chemicals a typical objects conservation lab might have, and to invite commentary on either my safety decisions or the uses (maybe obsolete?) of these substances.  Please feel free to comment, as it would make the posting more useful.



(Strong acid storage under fume hood)

Sulfuric Acid in 500mL glass reagent bottle, nearly full

Hydrochloric Acid 500mL in glass reagent bottle, nearly full

Nitric Acid 500mL in glass reagent bottle, nearly full in separate secondary container



(Yellow flammables cabinet, plastic tub, middle shelf)

 Ammonium Hydroxide 500mL glass reagent bottle (80% full) NH4OH cleanser, dyemaking, wood stain

Ammonium Hydroxide 4L glass reagent bottle (30% full)

Calcium Hydroxide 1 lb glass jar dry chemical (80% full) CaOH is used to bleach or buffer paper

Calcium Hydroxide saturated solution in small glass jar full

Chloramine T 1/2lb plastic jar (60% full) Chloramine T is N-chloro tosylamide, used as a bleach, disinfectant, and paper fungicide

Potassium hydroxide in a small amber glass bottle Used in arsenic testing

Sodium Hydroxide 5% 1L plastic bottle full NaOH aka caustic soda, soda lye

Sodium Hydroxide pellets 1lb glass jar (80% full)

Sodium Hydroxide in H2O in small glass dropper bottle full

Sodium Hydroxide 10% solution in small glass dropper bottle (80% full)

Sodium Perborate  Dec 1997 in a plastic cool whip tub Mild bleaching solution used in textile conservation?

Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) in water 2%, small glass jar (70% full) Sequestrant, emulsifier , paint remover



(Low cabinet across from fume hood, in a secondary container)

Keep separate from flammable solvents, glycerol, and reducing agents

Carusorb pellets 400g glass bottle full 5 % potassium permanganate on alumina filter for organic gases such as formaldehyde and acetic acids, turns from purple to brown when used.

Iodine crystalline 25g glass jar unopened for spot testing

Iodine, Sublimed 125 g jar unopened in plastic bag for spot testing

Potassium Ferrocyanide 10g small glass jar.  K4Fe(CN)6 Iron and copper spot tests and paper fungicide

Silver nitrate  5g powder in small glass bottle  For chloride testing.  Keep away from ammonium compounds



(Low cabinet below counter, under cabinet one)

Keep away from oxidizing agents

Formic acid sometimes used in electrolytic reduction

Activated Carbon 16oz in a plastic jar, unopened Filtration, odor reduction



(Yellow flammables cabinet, some in plastic tub, middle shelf)

Arsenic H20 in plastic film canister empty

“Badger + arsenic” water in plastic film canister (40% full) Known positive for arsenic testing

Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Molybdate Dihydrate, Potassium Antimony Tartrate, Potassium Pyrosulfate in small plastic jar Spot testing?

Boric Acid powder in 16oz plastic lab wash bottle Insect killer

Dimethyl Sulfoxide DMSO small glass jar full  (CH3)2 SO Dipolar aprotic solvent, penetrates membranes, less toxic than DMF.  Good paint stripper

Dimethylforamide DMF small glass jar (20% full)  Dipolar aprotic solvent.  Universal solvent.  HCON(CH3)2

Diphenylamine 25g glass jar unopened  Diphenylamine is a spot test for cellulose nitrate

Hydrogen sulfide test paper  Spot testing

Manganese Sulfate Monohydrate small plastic jar  Spot test for oil

Potassium Iodide, Lithium Hydroxide monohydrate small plastic jar spot test?

Phenyl Arsene Oxide in plastic bottle approx 60mL (50% full)  for arsenic tests, but better to use a true sample

Roach Prufe 1lb can (50% full) Orthoboric acid H3BO3  Insect killer

Sodium Carbonate, Sodium Sulfide, Ammonium Chloride, Erichrome Dye plastic jar spot test?

Sudan III .5g in 100cc 70% alcohol large glass canning jar now dry powder possible toxin.  Biological stain.  Sudan III is a fat soluble dye used as a test for triglycerides

Sudan III 0.5% in 100cc ethanol in a 30 oz Ragu glass jar (20% full)

Sudan III 25 g glass jar (80% full)

Sulfamic Acid small plastic jar H3NSO3  spot testing

Triton X-100 1 plastic bottle in plastic bag under sink Nonionic surfactant Octylphenoxyl polyethoxyethanol possible teratogen “Suspect Reproductive Hazard”

Xylamon wood worm killer 4.2 fl oz metal bottle (60% full)  Contains Lindane (gamma benzene hexachloride) C6H6Cl6 100x more toxic than DDT and an organic pollutant.  Possible carcinogen.



(Yellow flammables cabinet, top shelf)

Spot testing solutions

Cacotheline C21H21N3O7 solution 0.6% in small glass dropper bottle (80% full) spot test for tin

Cacotheline solution in glass dropper bottle Oct. 2002

Diacetone Alcohol small glass jar (70% full)  Properties of both acetone and ketone

Dithiozone in trichloroethylene .01% in small glass dropper bottle nearly empty

Ethylene glycol small plastic dropper bottle

Hydrochloric Acid 5% in small glass dropper bottle (90% full)

Also here: Adhesives in solvent solutions, mostly in ethanol and acetone solutions.  See adhesives inventory


(Yellow flammables cabinet, second shelf)

Proprietary products

Brasso in two 8 fl oz metal cans (full and half-full) Petroleum distillate, silica, and ammonia.  Causes stress cracking in brass

Ceresin Leather Dressing 1 pint glass bottle (70% full)   Ceresin is a wax similar to paraffin, probably in ethanol.  Used for paper and textile sizing and for leather dressing.

Energine Spot Remover in 8 fl oz metal container with Naptha (80% full)

Incralac in toluene (?) large glass reagent bottle (60% full) Used with Paraloid B-44 and BTA as a lacquer for bronze

Incralac diluted in toluene, small glass flask (30% full)

Loctite Extend Rust Neutralizer 8 fl oz plastic jar mostly full

Polane HS Juneau Turquoise gallon metal can full  Polane is an epoxy paint for Nimbus outdoor sculpture (Epoxy paint)

Polane A exterior catalyst in metal bottle

Preval aerosol spray in a box 3 oz Converts a jar of paint to an aerosol spray

Sodium dodecyl sulfate 100g dry powder in a glass jar July 2010

Wei T’o Solution No 3 30 fl oz glass jar, mostly full EMEC (Ethoxyl magnesium ethylcarbonate) or MMMC (methoxy magnesium methyl carbonate) used as a nonaqueous neutralizing agent for paper.  Avoid with coated, colored, or lignin papers


(Yellow flammables cabinet, third shelf and bottom shelf)



Acetone 16 oz plastic lab washbottle

Acetone 2 oz plastic lab bottle

Acetone 3 4L glass reagent bottles (two full, one almost empty)

Acetone in a large glass dropper bottle  (10% full)

Amyl Acetate, mixed isomers 1pt glass bottle (90% full) Solvent for cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, metallic paints.  Was used in AJK Dough (Alvar Jute Kaolin) and BJK Dough (Butvar Jute Kaolin) 

Butyl alcohol 500mL glass jar nearly full

Butanol medium glass jar (30% full) CH3(CH2)2CH2OH aka butyl alcohol solvent for paint, fat, oil, wax.  Stronger than ethanol

CitrisSolve in 150mL glass lab jar full

Ethanol 2 oz plastic lab bottle

Ethanol in medium size glass jar (50% full0

Hexane small glass jar (60% full) Hexane is the major component of ligroin

Isopropyl rubbing alcohol in two 32 oz plastic bottles (70% and 30% full)

Stoddard’s Solvent 4L glass reagent bottle (80% full)

Isopropanol 50% full

Muriatic Acid in large plastic jug weak hydrochloric acid

Punctilious Ethyl Alcohol 190 proof 5 gallon metal can (75% full)

Used Punctilious Ethyl Alcohol 190 proof 5 gallon metal can (20% full) Used to dewater Princess Sophia Camera

Toluene 4L glass reagent bottle (40% full)

Toluene 16oz red plastic lab wash bottle

Varsol 30 fl oz glass jar (80% full) Varsol contains mineral spirits similar to VM&P naphtha or dry-cleaning fluid

Xylenes 4L glass reagent bottle nearly full

Also on shelf: Box with small plastic dropper bottles used for site visits: toluene, Stoddards, xylene, distilled water, acetone, and ethanol. 

Also on bottom shelf: Large red metal safety can, nearly empty, Small red metal safety can labeled  “acetone

Small red metal safety can labeled  “varsol



(Cabinet one, top shelf)

Alizarin Crimson Red solution 0.1%  in glass dropper bottle Oct. 2002 spot test for aluminum

Ammonium acetate 500g amber glass jar dry crystals July 2010

Ammonium citrate dibasic 500g amber glass jar dry crystals July 2010 iron stain removal from certain substrates

Ammonium citrate dibasic 50g plastic bag dry crystals July 2010

Benzotriazole 100g plastic jar (50% full)

Benzotriazole 100g glass jar (50% full)  BTA is a corrosion inhibitor

Cacotheline powder small glass jar (10%full) Cacotheline is a spot test for tin

Calcium Carbonate 1/2lb glass jar (50% full) CaCo3 base, also used to polish metal

Citric Acid Anhydrous 1kg dry crystals in a plastic jar

Copper Sulfate solution 2% w/v 1L plastic bottle full CuSo4 Used as a protein test with NaOH, or as a dye mordant

Ferrous Hexametaphosphate 1kg plastic jar (almost full) NaPO3 Ie Calgon, Graham’s salts: detergent, emulsifier corrosion inhibitor,

Ferrous Sulfate 1lb glass jar (80% full)  FeSO4 Used as a spot test for tin or as a dye mordant

Magnesium Carbonate 500mg glass jar (80% full) MgCO3Magnesium carbonate is used to neutralize paper and to dry clean

Ninhydrin, Monohydrate 5 g jar unopened in plastic bag spot test for ammonia or proteins

Potassium Iodide 25g plastic jar unopened

Potassium Iodide 100g glass jar unopened Iodine and KI are combined as a spot test for starch

Sodium carbonate anhydrous 1kg dry in a plastic jar July 2010

Sodium bicarbonate 3 g dry powder in plastic jar July 2010

Sodium sesquicarbonate 1000g dry powder

Tannic Acid 1 lb glass jar (90% full) Tannic acid is a rust converter, but turns it black

Tannic Acid l lb glass jar (25% full)

Tannic Acid 100g plastic jar unopened

Thymol approx 500g glass jar (70% full) Thymol was commonly used as a fungicide in pastes, but dissolve soil paints and varnish

Versene Fe-3 Flake 1 lb glass jar (50% full) Versene is a chelating agent, possible to remove rust stains? 

Box of spot test papers:

Lead acetate paper

Cuprotesmo paper

Plumbtesmo paper

Quantofix nitrate test

Nickel test paper

Chromium paper

Oil test paper

Silver papers

Alka-Seltzer two packets



(Cabinet two, top shelf)

British Museum Leather Dressing 1pint plastic bottle (50% full) BMLD includes lanolin, oil and beeswax in hexane

British Museum Leather Protector 1 pint plastic bottle (30% full)

British Museum Leather Protector 1 pint plastic bottle full BMLP contains potassium lactate and paranitrophenol

Unidentified Furniture Oil plastic bottle (50% full)

Glycerin, Anhydrous 4fl oz plastic jar (90% full) Glycerin is an emulsifier and plasticizer

Glycerin in a 2 oz glass jar (70% full)

Lanolin, Anhydrous 1 lb plastic jar (80% full)

Lanolin, Anhydrous small glass jar from Harry Race Druggist, Sitka

Mineral Oil 32 fl oz large glass bottle (90% full)

Mineral Oil 32 fl oz large plastic bottle (90% full)

Mohawk Lemon Oil Polish 2 fl oz plastic jar (50% full)

Mohawk Lemon Oil Polish 2 fl oz plastic jar (50% full)

Neutralfat SSS in a glass jelly jar, full

Neutralfat SSS in large lab glass bottle w/ ground glass stopper (50% full) Neutralfat is a stabilized oleine soap

Old English Furniture Polish Lemon oil 8fl oz plastic bottle (90% full)

Saddle Soap, one metal tin Saddle soap is a combo of castile soap and Neat’s Foot oil

Sorbitol 500g glass jar (90% full) Sorbitol is a simple sugar used as an emulsifier or humectant.  More absorbent than glycerol.



(Under counter with sinks)

Igepal Ca-630 8oz in plastic bottle  Non ionic surfactant from Talas July 2010

Orvus Paste 3 plastic jugs 7 ½ lb each  Pure sodium lauryl sulfate.  In hard water or acids, can form scum

Orvus Paste 1 pint plastic jar (30% full) Orvus is an anionic detergent, sodium laurel sulfate?



(Small refrigerator)

EM Quant Nitrate test strips, 2 jars 100 each

EM Quant Arsenic test kits, 2 expired 2000

Contain small glass containers of zinc powder and hydrochloric acid

Enzyme Lipolase in glass jar with plastic bag.  Full.

Fat decomposing enzyme Hydrolysis of triglycerides

Enzyme Alcalase in glass jar with plastic bag.  Full.

Protein stain removal

Enzyme Celluzyme in glass jar with plastic bag.  Full.

Can enhance food stain removal



(Cabinet under fume hood)

Anhydrous Glycerine in 1 gallon plastic jug (80% full) Emulsifier, plasticizer

BoraCare 1 gallon plastic jug solidified (80% full) Disodium Octaborate Tetrahydrate  for totem pole care

Impel Rods in box, only 6 left.   Anhydrous Disodium Octaborate (Na2B8O13) for totem pole care

X-100 Natural Seal 1 gallon plastic can half full? Comes in both paraffinic oil or water based.  Contains UV inhibitors and borates, used for totem pole care



(Cabinet under the sink)

  • 10 Chemsorb Universal sorbents, 16” x 9” grey pads in a clear plastic bag
  • 3M P-110 Chemical sorbent pads 11” x 13” yellow in a yellow box of 50 pads
  • Hazorb chemical spill kit from Lab Safety supply with six small packs, gloves, bags in a white box marked “HAZORB” in blue